by Anna Formánková
Ian Fleming, the man who introduced the world to one of the biggest British heroes: Bond. James Bond. Though best known as a successful author of the Bond novels, Fleming drew inspiration for 007’s adventures from his own experience which he gained while working at the British Naval Intelligence Division. His life before Bond, including the WWII espionage period, is now uncovered in the four-part dramatisation ‘Fleming’, starring Dominic Cooper as the iconic personage.
“This is not a true representation of who this man is . . . it’s my idea of who I thought he would have liked to have been seen by others,” says Cooper about his role in the series. The actor took on the Bond inspiration and made Fleming into the man who would be Bond had he had the chance.
As the grandson of the Scottish financier Robert Fleming, founder the Scottish American Investment Trust and Robert Fleming & Co. merchant bank, Ian Fleming gave in to the family pressure and embarked upon a banking career. Under constant pressure of his despotic mother and overshadowed by his older brother Peter, a successful novelist, Fleming welcomed the opportunity to take part in the national espionage scheme and become an officer in the Naval Intelligence Division. And even though he is often considered to be a fantasist whose true schemes were happening only on the pages of his book, Ian Fleming was a vital member of the division’s activities over the course of the Second World War.
“There were new ideas then . . . actually [the] ones which are still being used today [and which] he was coming up with. . . .[When] you talk to a number of people . . . those who have had some connection in the spying world and they talk of Ian like: ‘He was the real deal,’”comments Cooper on Fleming’s real-life engagement with espionage. According to Anna Chancellor, who portrays officer Monday – the model for Bond’s Moneypenny – James Bond is clearly Fleming’s “alter ego and if you’d really examined his life, you can see where he gets his inspiration from.”
And it’s not only Bond’s spy career, but also his complicated relationships with women which are based on Fleming’s real life. Problematic relation with his mother – who after her husband’s death took on the role of the head of the family rather aggressively – left a significant imprint on Fleming’s emotional life. “He never commits to any of these women who truly loved him. He’s quite brutal with them, they’re definitely not his priority; he’s terrified of any form of commitment.”
Apart from the obvious adventures at the intelligence office, Fleming captures the important loves of the author’s life, concentrating on Muriel, the crucial, adventurous love of Ian’s life and the first Bond girl of WWII; and then on the volatile connection with Fleming’s wife Ann O’Neill, a unique relationship full of “extremes of behaviour: from tears to laughter, from passion to anger. They allowed each other to be that way,” concludes Lara Pulver, starring the series as the high-society, very spirited woman, Ann O’Neill.
When the director of the miniseries, Mat Whitecross, was planning on taking part in the project, he knew about the espionage aspect of Fleming’s life, but what he was even more interested in was the novelist’s love affairs which clearly get mirror in Bond: “When I came aboard I felt we should do more of Ann and more of Muriel, and more of the loves of his life because that someway explains the kind of the coldness and the strangeness of Bond.”
Ian Fleming wanted to be Bond; what he wrote was based on the version of his life he wanted to live. For what Fleming never managed to accomplish, he had Bond to achieve. The director of the series concludes his thoughts on the connection between Fleming and Bond: “I suppose, what makes [Bond] so attractive to people now is he’s not kind of a straight-down-the-line hero, he’s actually quite complicated, quite an antihero in a lot of ways and it seems that comes from Fleming’s life.”
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond captures Fleming’s life in Bond style, paralleling lives of both the real person and the fictional character. Bringing the significant people of Fleming’s life back to existence, the creators of the series manage to awaken the archetypes of Bond’s world: Muriel Wright as the prototype of the adventurous, fearless Bond girl; Ann O’Neill as the femme fatale, Rear Admiral John Godfrey upon which M was based, and his secretary, Second Officer Monday, who was the original Moneypenny.
Bond enthusiasts will find many hidden hints and references to the Bond franchise, which – combined with the archetypes mentioned above – turn the whole series into a television prequel, the first, original Bond story of the man who created 007. And even those who do not follow the Bond franchise that closely will get a greater insight into the life-story of a man who created the most famous fictional secret agent in history.
As for the main protagonist, even though Dominic Cooper does not much resemble Ian Fleming physically, he delivers a captivating performance. Cooper manages to show both the vulnerable side of a young, twenty-something Ian, as well as the edgy, dangerous, and intense Fleming in his late thirties. He definitely does not lag behind the actors of the Bond tradition, yet his performance is definitely not too Bondish; his Fleming comes from the real life rather than from the 007 fantasy.
Re:Views verdict: 90%
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond (2014)
Running time: 4 x 44 mins
Directed by Mat Whitecross
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Lara Pulver, Annabelle Wallis, Rupert Evans, Samuel West, Anna Chancellor and others
IMDB profile & selected promo videos
Available on Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube